One of the people who follow my blog asked me if I would write a column about what it was like behind the scenes while covering the Pope’s visit to New York. I’m happy to oblige him.
The Friday morning session covering the Pope’s address to the United Nations General Assembly was the tough one, as we had to be outside the United Nations at 3:30 AM. I had been at the Cathedral the night before for Vespers with the Pope and didn’t get home till almost 10:00 PM, so I was a little on the tired side. We made our way to the press pod, which was simply a fenced off area of United Nations Plaza in which each news crew was given an area designated merely by a piece of paper on the fence. We all had to have credentials and wear them through the police checkpoint. Once we were inside, it was all makeshift work. The crew had been there earlier to set up our space and the cameras. We sat in folding beach chairs while off camera and munched on whatever snacks we had brought. The fun part was finding a bathroom to use. There were no port-a-potties, and eventually found a residential building that graciously allowed us to use their basement facilities: we were there until 1:30 PM. I at least had a lot of time to sit and even catch a few winks, but poor Mary Calvi had to stand in front of the camera almost the whole morning!
Mary gave me a heads up as to what topic she wanted to discuss in the next segment, so I was never totally caught off guard. We were being fed information constantly from the studio via Mary’s ipad, and we discussed when we would talk about each topic and who would say what. She also asked me to add any information I knew as a priest that could add to the discussion at that point, which we did smoothly. They liked when I threw in a little comic relief, such as when I said it was too bad the Pope came all the way to New York and couldn’t take in a Broadway show! I did NOT mention – although the thought did cross my mind – of what would have happened if he did and the controversial topless ladies tried to pose for a picture with him! (You have to exercise quick discretion when you are on live TV!) I’d worked with Mary Calvi before and we’ve developed a nice style together. But this was the first time we were live!
Thankfully, the weather was warm and balmy. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the East River and a beautiful sunny day. This was the first time I had ever used the earpiece with the studio giving us info in our ears, even as we are talking. You really needed to be a multi-tasker and be able to continue what you are saying while someone is sending you messages in your ear. The messages varied from when they’d be getting back to us through when to end discussion. I got caught off guard only once: we had a TV in front of us so we could see what was being broadcast at the time. Of course, you can’t see it while you’re looking directly into the camera, and at one point I thought we were off camera and looked down at the screen, only to discover to my horror that I was still on and was now looking at the ground on live TV! Uggh! The only time I almost got thrown was when a woman from the crowd walked up to the fence behind me while I was talking on TV and started asking the reporter in the next row in a very loud voice where the bathroom was! I felt like stopping and yelling, “Hey! I’m working here!” Fortunately, I didn’t, as I don’t think the studio would have been pleased. There was a lot of down time when we weren’t on, and I got to know the crew very well. We became instant friends, and although I was exhausted by the end, I felt sad that I was saying goodbye to them, as they were such great people!
The Saturday morning segment at the studio was standard office work: people were checking over schedules and text for the segment. I didn’t get a full view of what everybody did and how it made its way to the script for the anchors, but what I saw was a friendly office-like process humming along. On the set, most was about the logistics of how high my chair was and whether I was too close or too far away from Mary Calvi. Fortunately, during the stretches where I was not on the air I was able to leave the table and take a bathroom break. I did get one personal delight, though. Before I studied for the priesthood I studied meteorology to be a TV weatherman. I was able to stand at the weatherman’s post and pretend I was giving a forecast. Of course it was all off camera and during commercial break so that it never interfered with the production, but it was still a fulfilling moment. When I was finally finished and told I could go home,
it was so anti-climactic. There had been so much work building up to the Pope’s visit, and I made several new friends, but they still had to continue their work, and we could only get a quick goodbye. I did get official feedback from CBS afterwards saying that the response from viewers was overwhelming and positive, and they asked if I’d be willing to come back for future events. Of course I said yes!
After all was said and done, I enjoyed the experience greatly, but I was never so happy to get back to my parish and do the work that is my real vocation!